We’ve all been there. We’re in the habit of going to the gym, eating right, and are a few short weeks away from attaining a new personal fitness goal. That is until your back starts acting up. After completing physical therapy and a comprehensive home exercise program has resulted in improved posture, increased strength, increased flexibility, and has eliminated your pain, but where do you go from here? One of the most common questions patients ask me is, “How can I safely return to cardio workouts without having to worry about reinjuring myself?” The simple answer to this question is gradually with step by step progressions.
Your first step towards calorie blasting cardio requires you to hop in the saddle. Upright bikes are one of the safest providers of a good cardiovascular workout. Contrary to the recumbent bike, an upright bike facilitates proper sitting posture, requires core muscular recruitment, and provides no impact through your low back. It is important that the settings on the bike be tailored to your body to maximize these benefits. Don’t be hesitant to ask a physical therapist or personal trainer to help you with this.
Once you have mastered two weeks of pain-free upright biking, you’re cleared for the elliptical. The elliptical is a low impact machine, which reduces the pressure placed on joints throughout the body. Your feet remained fixed within the pedals, so shock is minimized into the back and legs. The parameters can be altered as your strength and endurance progress, which provide a continuous challenge for your body as your needs change.
For those of you who are looking to take it to the next level, this is when we begin running (or jogging!). I encourage my patients to begin running on a treadmill. The running surface is consistent, which requires less demand on the body. Running outdoors is an added challenge, as your core and its surrounding musculature must be strong enough to tolerate forces received from varied terrain and ground surfaces. Distance and speed are two variables that change depending upon the patient. For a person who enjoys brief leisurely runs around central park, I won’t have them sprinting on a treadmill for 45 minutes on a 5 grade incline. Play it safe in the beginning and ramp up one variable at a time. Allowing your body to master one condition is vital before progressing onto a more difficult task.
Outdoor running begins once you have successfully run your desired distance and speed on a treadmill for two weeks – completely pain free. Normal muscle soreness from exercise is expected, but if you are experiencing the symptoms that brought you into physical therapy, hold yourself at that level or take a small step back. Your desired outdoor running route will still be there in another week or two. It’s better to completely rehabilitate yourself than to jump back too soon and erase all of the hard work you’ve done over the past couple months.
The phrase “no pain, no gain” does not apply to low back pain. Listen to your body. If you begin to feel pain, spasms, tingling, or numbness, that is a good indication to stop. It seems like common sense, but I cannot tell you how many times a patient has experienced these symptoms when returning to exercise and figured that they were normal with the healing process. There is a safe and easy way to return to cardiovascular workouts! If you have any specific questions that pertain to your individual goals, reach out to us at Spring Forward Physical Therapy.
Article by Kristen Crisara